Disease Prevention: Traveling Healthy in Thailand
Many visitors to Thailand live in Australia, Europe, and the United States, with seasonal climates changes including cold snaps. The climate in Thailand is opposite, hot and tropical year round. Positioned near the equator, Thailand is home to mosquitoes and pests which carry viruses, plus bacteria in the environment, travelers are not exposed to in their home countries. While Thai food is delicious, it should be noted stomach and GI distress is the number one ailment travelers face. Stomach distress or “Travelers Trot” is often the result of ingesting contaminated food and/or water.
First, take preventative measures before hopping on a plane to sunny Phuket, bustling Bangkok, or the quiet, remote areas along the Mekong River. A visit to your general practitioner or an international travel medical clinic is a great place to start. It may sound over-the-top to some, but it’s really an intelligent decision. Thailand is a developing nation with a variety of infectious tropical diseases in both urban and rural areas.
Your general practitioner or travel clinic physician may pro-actively prescribe an antibiotic to take only if you get sick. Some travelers have reported an Australian over-the-counter medication named Travelan helps prevent GI upset. According to the product’s website, “Travelan is a natural product, specifically designed to reduce the risk of infection by Enterotoxigenic E. coli (ETEC), the most common cause of Travellers’ Diarrhoea.” Please note, our reference to the product is for informational purposes only and is not an endorsement or recommendation.
Vaccination for Prevention: Travel to Thailand
It’s important to ensure you’ve had your childhood vaccines. If your parents were “anti-vaccination”, it’s best you see a medical specialist prior to international travel.
Most Medical Doctors suggest you’re current on tetanus, seasonal influenza, and Hepatitis A vaccinations. According to many physicians, Hepatitis B vaccination is likely a good idea as well. However, this is between you and your doctor.
At the moment, a few travel clinics are suggesting Japanese encephalitis vaccination for some travelers. The suggestion is based on your profile and exactly where you’ll visit. As for Typhoid, it’s often suggested for travelers who try different foods or are more apt to try street food. Oral Typhoid vaccination lasts roughly 4 years. While vaccination decisions are between you and your doctor, preventative measures go a long ways.
Staying Healthy: Mosquito Borne Illnesses in Thailand
Mosquito borne illnesses are a significant problem in the tropics. While you need not be concerned about dengue or malaria in big cities and resort towns, it’s high risk in rural Thailand. Travel medical clinics keep current information on malaria zones. To combat malaria, a variety of anti-malarial medications are available. They are typically prescription but a few have bad side effects. Talk to your doctor about the correct one for you. Anti-malarial medicine is typically started before entering a malaria zone.
Another must-do is use of a mosquito repellent containing DEET. For travel to malaria-zones, pre-treatment of clothing with Permethrin is often recommended.
Finally, Zika Virus is present in Thailand at the moment. The exact status isn’t fully known, but take precautions against being bit with an insect repellent which includes DEET.
Clean Drinking Water and Hygiene in Thailand
The world’s number one health problem is the lack of clean drinking water. While in Thailand, do not drink the tap water. Also, don’t use tap water to brush your teeth. Use bottled water for most things, aside from showering, shaving, and washing your hands. Ice in major establishments is made from purified water and safe, but exercise caution. Additionally, fresh foods washed in tap water may pose a risk.
As a result of the hot climate, it’s important you stay well hydrated. The good news is cold bottled water is cheap and available nearly everywhere. This includes 7/11’s which are essentially a national institution in Thailand. Consume alcoholic and caffeinated beverages in moderation as they’ll dehydrate you. Additionally, there’s sports drinks such as Gatorade and regional equivalents with electrolytes.
If you do get travelers diarrhea, it’s important you stay hydrated. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, or if lasts more than 24 hours, seek medical care. Don’t fret – medical care is good in Thailand and prices are reasonable. You’ll find many English speaking doctors in major cities and resort. Sometimes an antibiotic is needed, depending on the cause, but dehydration alone has potential to become serious.
Over the counter medication (OTC) like Imodium are easy to find. Additionally, many medicines RX at home you’ll find OTC. If you need medication for an illness, it’s best you do see a doctor.
Any cuts or wounds, keep clean and dry. Watch for signs of infection.
The bright Thailand sun is also known to catch tourists off-guard, even if it seems cloudy or cool. Don’t forget to use sunscreen or you may look like (and feel like) a hot dog.
Finally, wash your hands with soap and water, especially before you eat! Good personal hygiene prevents diseases, at home and abroad.
Motorcycle Accidents – “The Samui Tattoo”
Renting motorbikes is fun and may save on taxi money. However, it’s also dangerous, especially if you’re not used to riding a bike or the crazy traffic patterns. Many rent daily without problem but island emergency rooms know the wrecks well. Some like to get a tattoo while in Thailand, just be sure it’s not the “Samui Tattoo” after a motorbike accident.
Medical Insurance and Healthcare in Thailand
Medical insurance with coverage in Thailand is important. If medical insurance from home does not provide adequate coverage, a quality travel medical insurance policy is likely a good idea.
If you need to seek medical care in Thailand, there’s many top-rated hospitals including BNH Hospital in Bangkok. There’s also Bangkok Hospital, a chain with hospitals in Bangkok, Koh Samui, Phuket, Pattaya, and other cities. Medical Tourists actually flock here to save money over procedure at home. If you must go to an emergency room or be admitted to a hospital, you’re in good hands.